Madrid

Fernando Renes

La Casa Encendida

Fernando Renes is the only Spanish artist in Vitamin D, Phaidon’s new book on drawing (unless one also counts Ernesto Caivano, who was born in Spain but grew up in Argentina and the United States). Though not widely known before the publication of this book, Renes’s drawings, in which he lays out what might be called visual aphorisms, are often quite powerful. His drawings seem to relate to little stories that are suggested but never fully developed. In these stories, he balances opposing elements: personal concerns and public ones, images of reality and spaces of the imagination, and so on. As a result, these pieces are elusive, hard to place, uncategorizable. This is also due to the fact that, though Renes outlines the figures very primitively, he uses color to give his work a pictorial dimension that surpasses the rudimentary quality of the drawing.

Of course, there are many other Spanish artists who use drawing, but Renes does so exclusively, even when the results are exhibited not as such but in the form of animated videos. “Mis animales y yo” (My Animals and I) is the name of the exhibition that brings together for the first time all of Renes’s video production since 2000. The set, which consists of six pieces lasting from one to twelve minutes, shows the evolution of his work in this medium. The videos owe little to his drawings on paper. Of course, the two bodies of work coexist, taking from each other certain iconographic elements, but with major differences. The most obvious of these, perhaps, is that while the drawings suggest situations, the videos develop them, although never as precise stories. Another is that the static drawings occasionally appropriate preexisting iconography—especially photographs—and give them a metalinguistic charge lacking in his moving images. Still, there is this continuity in the way that the images are drawn: In both his works on paper and his videos, Renes is constantly correcting his drawings, and this density of corrections gives them a painterly texture.

The most remarkable feature of Renes’s animated drawings is their emphasis on continuous metamorphosis. Most of these pieces rest on the ceaseless evolution of shapes that take on consecutive, interlinked appearances, not unlike the work of William Kentridge, where each scene gives rise to the next. “Everything matters, everything changes, everything goes, everything tires,” according to the brief video Everything MattersTodo importa, 2001, which is the most interesting and emblematic of Renes’s early work. The most important difference between Renes’s animation and that of Kentridge is that Renes uses eye-catching shapes and colors whereas Kentridge, particularly in his early animations, makes use of stark blacks and whites. Furthermore, in contrast to Kentridge, some of Renes’s work comes dangerously close to the bravura of drawing for drawing’s sake. He has, however, managed to avoid this in his most recent work, Instant Gratification—Satisfacción inmediata, 2006, which, from start to finish, has a clear, concrete intention at work behind its visual syntax—the metamorphosis of words into an amorphous but expressive shape.

Pablo Llorca

Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.